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   Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories - Reader Review  

Forgetful Memories
by Jeremy, the Duke of Otterland

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Medium to Impossible
COMPLETION TIME
10-20 Hours
OVERALL

1.5/5.0

Rating definitions 

   For fans of Square and Disney's well-revered crossover RPG Kingdom Hearts, the long wait for its sequel has been nothing short of agonizing. When word of the Playstation 2 sequel first came out, so did word of another Kingdom Hearts title for the Gameboy Advance, a sort of intermediary between Kingdom Hearts I and II entitled Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. Unfortunately, a few poor gameplay decisions and heavy recycling from its predecessor easily ruin any potential the game had at all.

   In Chain of Memories, Sora receives a number of cards throughout his trip through Castle Oblivion, which play part in the gameplay in and out of battle. He can assemble up to three decks with four kinds of cards: Keyblade cards, magic cards, item cards, and enemy cards. Capacity Points, which Sora can increase after leveling up, determine the number of cards he can have in each deck. In each floor's rooms, Heartless endlessly wander about, and contacting them starts a battle; Sora, however, can strike them with his Keyblade to gain the advantage when the fight begins.

And in case that weren't enough, his cousin also spins hip-hop! D.J. Giant Onion Cage spins a killer set

   In battle, using Keyblade cards makes Sora perform physical attacks, while using magic cards, of course, makes him use attack or healing magic. Item cards, however, have a number of functions, such as automatically reloading certain kinds of cards before an official reload. Using enemy cards yields temporary advantages such as increasing the value of each card by one. Oh, and special Friend cards occasionally bounce around the field, as well, each containing diverse effects such as Goofy's spinning shield attack or Donald's magic. Each card, I should mention, has a value from zero to nine. Enemies use cards too, and if Sora uses a higher-valued card, he'll break the enemy's card attack, and vice versa. Zero cards can break any attack or combo, something to keep in mind during the toughest battles. When he runs out of cards, he must spend some time charging to reload his deck, with charge time increasing up to three levels with subsequent reloads.

   There are two main categories of cards: normal cards and premium cards. Sora can reuse normal cards after reloading his deck, while premium cards have only one use in battle, that is, unless he loads it as the second or third card in a combo. As for combos, Sora can, as you can probably infer, load three cards into a combo when the player simultaneously presses the L and R buttons, and release the combo by pressing the buttons again; when leveling up, or from the occasional treasure chest, he can gain special combos called Sleights, activated after loading specific kinds of cards into a combo. Combos can easily break through enemy card attacks unless they use combos totaling a higher value or a zero card. While an endless array of combos can easily clear normal battles, the first card used in the combo disappears for the rest of the fight, somewhat restricting their use during long, tedious boss battles.

   Though the card-based aspect of the battle system would theoretically add a bit of strategy, the fast-paced real-time nature of fights leaves little room for careful thought, with most fights in my experience winding down to endless button-mashing, all of which can very well numb your fingers.

   The shoddy way in which Sora receives experience doesn't really help, either. This may sound like a minor quarrel, but the fact that Sora must gather crystals dropped in the heat of battle by enemies to increase his experience is plain annoying, especially when enemies assault him as he does so. Why not save some time and annoyance by giving him experience at the end of battle? When Sora does level up, however, the player can increase his maximum HP or Capacity Points, or, on occasion, learn a new Sleight.

Jafar then realized that burning off his privates in scolding lava wasn't the best course of action Jafar uses nudity to his advantage

   Shoddy experience distribution and button mashing aren't the worst failures of the game's battle system, however. Worse are the sudden spikes in difficulty between normal enemies and many bosses, with some boss battles bordering on unplayable. Most humans simply don't have enough eyes or appendages to monitor the enemy's quick movements and devastating attacks while keeping Sora out of danger and navigating his card deck. In the end, given this and other flaws, the battle system quickly loses its appeal.

   Even outside of battle, players can't escape the wrath of the developers. Every room on each floor of Chain of Memories is locked, and Sora must use special room cards, gained at the end of battles, to unlock them. Though cards can customize what lies within each chamber, the fact that certain rooms can be picky about what kind of cards are necessary to unlock them can easily make players spend hours upon hours fighting foes just to get a certain type of card. Overall, even interaction can't redeem the game.

   The fun doesn't end there. If ever an RPG were derivative, it's this one. Chain of Memories recycles far too many elements from the original Kingdom Hearts to feel fresh, such as the characters, the worlds, many story events, and even the soundtrack. The only thing really separating it from other RPGs is its card-based battle system, and even so, this game isn't the first to have such a system.

   The game's story immediately picks up where the first Kingdom Hearts left off, following Sora, Donald, and Goofy as they stumble upon a generic mysterious castle, Castle Oblivion, where a shrouded stranger starts them off on an adventure through its many floors, where they encounter much of the same worlds and events that they did in the first game, albeit with a mysterious Organization behind everything. Though the bits on the Organization are interesting, to say the least, as is Riku's side of the story, accessed when players beat Sora's side, the rehashed nature of the storyline is a cut below infuriating, and the pacing just doesn't work. All in all, even the story is a giant ball of wasted potential.

He'll never, never land a lady "You better not be making fun of my tights, punks!"

   As I've said, Chain of Memories recycles much of its predecessor's soundtrack, from the bouncy, annoying Wonderland theme to the mysterious Hollow Bastion piece, much of which is as passable as it was in the first game. Even the theme song, "Simple and Clean," returns, with its sung lyrics decently preserved, no less. There are a few original pieces, though, which are either good or bland. Voice clips from the first game constantly sound off in battle, as well, and overall, the aurals are, at best, acceptable.

   The game looks fine. For one, this is the first and only Gameboy Advance game I've played with FMV scenes, which look nice. The rest of the game, moreover, decently reproduces its predecessor's characters and worlds, although the redundant nature of each world's dungeon design, not to mention a bit of occasional slowdown in battles crowded with endless Heartless, can make the visuals lose a bit of their appeal.

   Finally, the game's difficulty constantly bounces between medium and close to impossible. I rarely died against normal enemies, though deaths against bosses were far more frequent in my experience. That said, Sora's story, depending upon the player's skill and luck, can take anywhere from ten to fifteen hours to finish, while Riku's story, Reverse Rebirth, is much shorter, taking a little under five hours to complete.

   All things considered, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories contains endless problems, chiefly in its gameplay, that more development time and testing could've easily solved. Its monotonous, often frustrating, battle system, not to mention heavy recycling from its predecessor, certainly won't appeal to the mainstream gaming crowd, and thus, only the most loyal Kingdom Hearts fans will find much to celebrate here (and even they might find their loyalty tested). In the end, even if you didn't enjoy the original Kingdom Hearts, playing through Chain of Memories will make you appreciate the first game so much more.

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